Title: The Long Past & Other Stories
Author: Ginn Hale
Publisher: Blind Eye Books
Length: 225 Pages
Category: Historical, Alt Worlds, Steampunk
At a Glance: Ginn Hale is, simply put, a master of unique and incredible Alt U fantasy. I don’t devour her work as much as I work hard to savor every word of it because to do otherwise is a guarantee of missing something amazing.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: 1858 – Warring mages open up a vast inland sea that splits the United States in two. With the floodwaters come creatures from a long distant past. What seems like the End Times forges a new era of heroes and heroines who challenge tradition, law, and even death as they transform the old west into a new world.
–In the heart of dinosaur country a laconic trapper and a veteran mage risk treason to undertake a secret mission.
–A brilliant magician and her beautiful assistant light up stages with the latest automaton, but the secrets both of them are hiding test their trust in each other and pit them against one of the most powerful men in the world.
–At the wild edge of the Inland Sea, amidst crocodiles and triceratops, an impoverished young man and a Pinkerton Detective must join forces to outmaneuver a corrupt judge and his gunmen.
Review: Who but Ginn Hale would think to weave together the 19th century Western frontier, an alternative America bisected by a great Inland Sea which has done away with much of the Midwest and Southern states, a place where magic and clockwork technology intersect, and then introduce prehistoric beasts to the mix? I can’t even with this author’s seemingly infinite supply of imagination, and there’s a reason I have long said I worship at the altar of it. Yes, I’m an unapologetic fangirl.
The Long Past & Other Stories are three independent novellas spanning from 1864 to 1896, and while I say they are independent, they are also connected in the anthology’s overall arc. The characters themselves don’t overlap from one story to the next, but the contributions to the world made by Grover and Lawrence in the first story, The Long Past, influence the times in which both The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus and Get Lucky take place. I suppose that’s to be expected, though, when two men quite literally save their world.
In an 1864 America where airships and mages coexist with a man who’s tamed a giant prehistoric bird he rides like a horse, there is also an interracial love story at work between that man, Grover, and his first, and only, love, Lawrence—the man Grover had long thought dead. Theirs is a second-chance romance that plays out against the willing sacrifice Lawrence is committed to making which will right the wrong that instigated the rift and the resulting great flood that not only altered the landscape of the country and caused mass casualties but that also allowed dinosaurs to crossover out of their own time and into this era in the process. There is such a sense of despair mixed with hope in The Long Past, and I loved how it influenced the tone of the story, from Lawrence’s calling to he and Grover rebuilding what they’d thought was lost.
In ‘Professor Perfectus’, the year is 1893, the setting Chicago during what might have been the World’s Fair in our reality, in a time and place where magic is most certainly real but is played off as sleight of hand entertainment for an enthusiastic audience. There’s danger and mystery in this short story for our heroine Abril, and I loved the villain in this one as well as the sinister invention meant to enslave women in a clockwork Stepford Wives way. As much as I’d love to tell you all about the villainy in this piece, to do so would spoil so much of the surprise, and that would be the definition of reader evil. So, I won’t say a word about it. Let me just say, though, that it’s inspired. It’s up to Abril and her love, Geula, to stop this crazed genius from carrying out his plans and to save a woman, and all women, from becoming unwilling automatons. This story resonated with me on a personal convictions level, which I loved.
In the final story, Get Lucky, the year is 1896, the rift long closed and the flooding ended, but the landscape of the New United America is forever changed. Dalfon Elias is a hired gun who’s tracking his next mark when he meets Luc Spivey, also known as Lucky. Once again, without revealing too much, Hale gives a wink and a nod to H.G. Wells in this piece, and I loved Dalfon’s penchant for finding the most appropriate literary quotes for every situation. Amidst this, Hale also layers the story with a touching romance between Dalfon and Lucky, one that takes a poignant turn before resolving in the end. Extenuating circumstances and what could only be called a twist of fate come between them, but love and luck prevail the way they should.
I realize short stories and novellas aren’t everyone’s cuppa, and I’ve read more than my fair share that forget the beginning-middle-end arc of storytelling, often making it feel as though I’ve been dumped into the middle of a story with no context to lead up to it. What Ginn Hale does with a capable hand is to not only give each novella its due substance, layering details—even ones that might seem insignificant, if isolated, but serve the whole of the world building—into the setting and characters that make each story richer for it. These characters represent a cross section of people in race, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality, and I appreciated the real-world context of their storylines in the fantastical setting. The post abolition/pre-women’s suffrage frame of reference offers a realism set against the religious overtones of the earth magic that’s present here. Ginn Hale is, simply put, a master of unique and incredible Alt U fantasy. I don’t devour her work as much as I work hard to savor every word of it because to do otherwise is a guarantee of missing something amazing.
You can buy The Long Past & Other Stories here: